I could not stand upon my pyre.
Could not let my guilty skin char, blood bubble, and eyes burst. Could not spit, pop, and crackle amongst the flames.
Had the heart he placed inside my chest once again forsaken me? I despaired. Trees, under the weight of Arctic snow, bowed like expectant mourners, but I could not appease them. So I stood shivering, despite the warmth of my demise. Would I forever feel rapid, desperate heartbeats against my fingertips? Slight vibrations of gasps against my palm? Flecks of blackened wood stained the whiteness around the fire, and the intense heat had started to melt the surrounding snow. I stood there until the first rays of dawn, when the horizon and the flames turned the colour of embers. The coals were the flowers placed upon the coffin of my freedom. All there was to do was drag these heavy feet across another continent, collecting little more than callouses.
For thirty years, I found lonely refuge in forests and mountains. The Alps had lost their sense of monolith, the Swiss forests their beauty. All that remained of me were footsteps. Oh why? I had commiserated. Why could my fingers and toes not turn blue and waxy, and my heart still within my chest? Why would animals not latch onto my limbs and tear them out of their stitched sockets?
But, it was when travelling through Paris that I obtained the objects that would change my life’s path; an intervention by destiny.
The French have beautiful outdoor bookstores — bouquinistes. Boxes of second-hand books lounged across each side of the Seine, manned by fellows in tailcoats and tophats. I had found that peering at these carts from alleyways was the closest I would come to reading, and so had made a habit of sitting, head resting against cold brick, watching people skim the shelves.
It was a crisp, cold October morning when I saw gold glimmering within the books — three vibrantly coloured leather books, the divots of flowering edging on either side of the spines. Encased in orange paint were the words Vol. 1, Vol. 2 and Vol. 3. Looming above these chapter distinguishments, were the words:
My hands started to quiver, and my brow dampen. My creator’s name — lengthened but nonetheless his — caused my breath to quicken and vision to blur. Had Dr. Franken risen from the dead, seeking final vengeance on his creation? I knew it could be a coincidence, yet the blinding banner of gold would not relinquish my attention. I waited patiently for someone to pick up the tomes, in hopes I could steal it from them in a darkened alley. Alas, this moment never came and the books sat, prideful, on the cart. I had no choice but to confront the setting sun and snatch the books myself. I had hoped the bookseller would keep his back turned, but neither he nor I were so lucky. Upon seeing me, he trembled and struggled with the comprehension of my form: my glowing yellow eyes and patchwork skin. I snatched the three tomes and held them to my chest, bolting down the street. I ran into another alleyway, never stopping, and abandoning all embodiment of a sleuth.
Once I had arrived in the surrounding countryside, I ducked behind some bushes to recapture my breath. I allowed my spoils to spill onto the grass, one of the novels opening to the first page.
Frankenstein, ou Le Promethee Moderne, it read. Par Mme. Shelley. I flipped to the next page, then the next, finding my life surmised in curves and strokes of ink. The creation and the downfall. The unforgivable acts of jealousy and revenge; such human reactions for someone as non-human as myself. I had not felt the sensation of tears for years, but on this occasion, they were drawn from my eyes. To read the thoughts of my creator, to hear he did not care — did not attempt to care — cut me deeper than any physical wound. On my second reading, I saw hope in-between the lines, the spellings of another life. My own destiny within my master’s. I took mental notes on the places he had travelled, the schooling he had received. I had never known the place of his most vital research, but now my dreams were captured within my hands.
It took a mere week-and-a-half to return to the lab and vials of my ‘childhood’. I knew I may find nothing, and perhaps that would have been more of a comfort to me. Nonetheless, when searching through the library in the dead of night, I found my answers. Scribblings of anatomy and musings of da Vinci lay like sleeping giants within books written by the natural philosophers. The handwriting of my creator. With those words came the realisation, the eureka. I could hold a dead thing in my hands and state: “Not you. You will be present.”
There were reasons for hesitation. I had no house or homestead, and no place to source body parts. But my mind was fixated on companionship and the sensation of a woman’s hands. I found a cave, no more than seven feet tall, and collected the most desirable body parts from the nearby morgue.
After three months of crawling in and out of my stone laboratory, I finalised my work. There She lay, fragile and limp. Purple veins pressed against her grey skin; and her eyes, one blue and one green, stared blankly at the rocks.
When I witnessed Her form, so beautiful in the darkness, the words of humans entered my mind. Monster. Daemon. Heathen. I reached for the twine with one hand, and found the other closing Her eyes. Eyelashes delicately tickled my palm. Murderer. Wicked. Cursed. I let the needle pierce the soft, thin skin of Her eyelids. Wretched. Devil. Evil. I pushed and pulled, the needle jolting each time it was relieved from the pressures of skin. Suddenly, Her eyes were shut and my hands were on the electric-machine.
With a spark and crackle and great flash of light, there was a woman on the slab, moving Her fingers, wiggling Her toes. Her eyes strained at the twine, and Her lips opened in a gasp.
“Hn-uhn,” She said.
I took Her hand in mine and She tugged against it slightly, as if testing the resistance. Finding my grasp would not relent, Her fingers fell slack.
I taught Her how to stand, then walk, then talk. The latter was resolved through bringing Her miscellaneous animals and fruits and discussing these through touch. It only took a few months for us to start to converse. I told Her of the forest and the expansive world beyond, the cold mountains and colder humans. I explained to Her my story, discarding the grotesque details, to make Her grateful for our home. Sometimes She would go deep into thought, head in Her hands. It was peculiar seeing a woman's body so hunched and oblivious to the world around Her.
That night I found Her a dress and corset, hoping the nice fabrics would assist in diminishing Her depression. She was excited at the new sensations on Her skin, and for the first time a slight smile cracked Her lips.
“Thank you,” I said, and She repeated.
And so, every second night, I cast away into the darkness to find trinkets for Her. She had started a collection in the corner of the cave, paper laid beside rock laid beside shell. Each night, She eagerly rushed to me, a flood of compliments on Her lips. It had warmed my heart, seeing Her so captivated with things as small as petals. But like all things, this happiness too would end.
It started when She asked if She could wear pants. She complained of the coldness that travelled up Her skirts, and the impracticalities of movement. She asked if She could venture and find trinkets Herself. Hunt by Herself. She asked why She was confined to stone and cold while I was not. I will admit I raised my voice, louder than I expected or had known possible of myself.
“The world outside is a dark, terrifying place! Do you not recall what I have told you of my existence? Of the cruelty of men and fear of women! You will not find the world worthy. I have given you the greatest kindness and yet you meet me with betrayal.” She shied away from the heightened tone.
“I want to leave,” She whispered.
It was with those words I realised I was never to be called son or husband, nor father.
I was her master.
I stared hopefully into her stitched-up eyes, willing them to see I was her equal. I searched for upward creases beside her mouth, or a light easy breath. It was with the absence of these things that I realised I had failed. I was alone again. I wrapped my hands around her wrists — the very limbs I had brought life to — and threw her to the cold stone floor, where she did not rise.
Dr Franken’s notes could not have been wrong; I must have misread a line, misunderstood an instruction, miscalculated an equation. I have besmirched his work with a defective creation, but I could undo my mistake — I could take her apart to find the flaw and remove it. Perhaps the voltage was too little or too much, or the cave too septic for such divine work. My dismay and anger soothed into composure and contemplation. I would remake her, replace the tainted pieces. And when she came to me anew, we would be happy.
I tied her limp hands and feet together with some rope. She was slouched, her corset the only structure in her form. I heaved a deep breath and took refuge in the cool night, letting the moonlight wash upon me. I stared up to the sky, ruminating over what I must do next. Around me, the grass swayed gently in the wind. I resorted to picking flowers, planning to place them among her collection, however I found myself plucking absently at the petals until all I was left with were stalks. She had proven to be an irrational thing, but still I hoped that she, in her final moments, understood my intent was not to harm.
I returned, seeking to cure her madness. Instead I found two short pieces of twine, stained a rusting red. Scattered around them were the browning petals I had given her and the rope I had bound her in. I did not cry or tremble, clasping onto the only two pieces of her I had left.
Instead, I rearranged my stone laboratory and adjusted the controls on my electric-machine, preparing for my next journey to the morgue.